Why the World Should Forgive Roseanne’s Racist Tweet
Roseanne Barr and I have now recorded two podcasts where she expressed heartfelt regret over the pain she caused with her recent tweet about Valerie Jarrett. She explained that her purpose was to go through all four major steps of Jewish repentance, as outlined by Maimonides:
First, a recognition of the sin. Once cannot excuse or rationalize one’s actions. There must be an unequivocal acceptance that one has done wrong. Second, a confession of the sin, a clear articulation that one acknowledges one’s error, with no ifs, ands, or buts. Third, an apology to the injured party and a request for forgiveness. And fourth, restitution. Undertaking concrete action that demonstrates that one is charting a new course.
Roseanne went through all four. She said publicly and emotionally that she had done wrong and caused pain to others, in particular Valerie Jarrett. Second, she confessed her wrong publicly and personally. Third, she asked the public for forgiveness, and went to Valerie Jarrett’s Twitter account and asked for forgiveness. And fourth, Roseanne said she has contributed funds to African-American educational establishments to make restitution.
And even with all that, I had national TV anchors asking me last week, “How do you know she’s sincere?” “What if she’s doing this to rescue her career?” “Doesn’t she have a history of doing this kind of thing?”
Amazing. A woman who is world-renowned can do two public interviews where she cries her eyes out, begs forgiveness, say loudly and plainly that she does not want her legions of fans to defend her as she knows she’s done wrong, and still there are so many that refuse to forgive.
If it is true that civility is dead in America, then its equally important cousin, forgiveness, is equally dead. And what a tragedy for America.
First, let me deal with Roseanne. She recorded the apology podcast after her show had been canceled. She had nothing to gain by releasing an interview in which she showed extreme vulnerability. But she knows that as a famous Jewish woman, who publicly aligns herself with Judaism and Israel, she is a de facto representative of her people. And she didn’t want to act in contravention to the values that she herself promotes.
In this hyper-partisan climate that currently rules America there are going to be more and more high profile people who step on landmines. Do I want to see any of these people destroy themselves, lose their career, and never be forgiven? I want to see an America that believes in atonement and forgiveness.
Celebrities will continue to say outrageous things. America is just not in a place where people in the public eye are exerting a great amount of self-control. So, at the very least, let’s impress upon them the need to atone for missteps — however egregious — and, if they do so sincerely, they should be forgiven.
Without atonement and forgiveness Americans are going to be at each other’s throats with no way back. Sure, people should be civil to begin with. They shouldn’t attack each other or say mean things about each other. But, we are all human. We are all fallible. And we’re all going to make serious mistakes.
I am a great believer in apologies, so long as they are offered sincerely, without excuses, and restitution is made. How do we know if someone is sincere? Firstly, from the degree of emotion showed in their apology. As the Talmud says, “Words that emanate from the heart, penetrate the heart.” You can always tell if someone is faking it.
We also know that someone is sincere if they follow up their words with action. Action, as the ancient rabbis said, is the most important component. Restitution can come in the form of charity, it can come in the form of public service, and it can come in the form of making direct amends to the aggrieved party.
I believe that Roseanne is truly sorry for her words, and should be forgiven.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America” is the international best-selling author of 32 books, including “Lust for Love,” co-authored with Pamela Anderson. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.